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4 condors ready for the wild life

Four endangered California condors left the Los Angeles Zoo after graduating from a course that their trainers hope has taught them to fear humans and survive in the wild.

On Nov. 10, these near-extinct birds are scheduled to be released to join 16 other condors near the Cuyama Valley in California's Santa Barbara County, said the zoo's curator of conservation and science, Dr. Michael Wallace."It's pretty exciting. We're still in the throes of developing the birds out in the field," Wallace said a day before he left with the crated birds on a four-hour ride to the release area.

In 1987, the worldwide California condor population was 27; now it stands at 132.

Through the condor recovery program run by the Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park, about 15 birds are released each year near Cuyama, at Big Sur and at Vermilion Cliffs north of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Wallace said the program may soon be expanded so the huge birds are released in the Sierras, Baja California and a ranch owned by Ted Turner in New Mexico.

Once released, the birds still require close supervision. All birds are tagged with radio transmitters so they can be tracked to make sure they are safe and eating properly.

"We're still teaching them out there," Wallace said. "It's a full management program."

In January, a 20-pound condor with a 9-foot wingspan strayed from its flock in Arizona and was killed by a golden eagle. It was the first recorded natural death of a condor since the captive breeding, release program was begun in 1992, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Four birds have been killed so far when they hit power lines, and a fifth died when it drank from a pool of antifreeze.